This video from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly highlights the baptism ceremony and how it is practiced in different Christian denominations. In the Roman Catholic Church, baptizing infants is essential because it represents the forgiveness of original sin, conversion to the faith and a relationship with God in the afterlife. In Baptist churches, baptism is observed by adults when they are ready to identify as followers of Jesus Christ and profess the faith. The video also shows how the process of baptism varies. Some denominations sprinkle water on worshippers, while others immerse them.
Christianity Glossary (Document)
The Christian rite of baptism uses water purification to symbolize entry into the faith. It dates back more than 2,000 years ago when a religious leader known as John the Baptist began preaching about spiritual reform and redemption in the Jordan River Valley. In keeping with many Hebrew rituals that preceded his teachings, John believed the Apocalypse was near and that cleansing souls through water purification was essential for spiritual salvation.
John, who was active during Jesus' lifetime, led a religious movement that centered on conducting baptisms in the Jordan River. The practice typically consisted of full-body immersion of adults who were seeking forgiveness for their sins. Among the people John baptized was Jesus, who then encouraged others to experience the spiritual rebirth he had achieved through baptism.
Inspired by the events of Jesus’ life, early Christians adapted the rite of baptism, made it a sacred act and moved it from the Jordan River to within the walls of the church. Baptism continued to represent purification of sin by water, as well as the worshipper’s readiness for God’s kingdom in life and death. As the religion grew, both newborn infants and newly faithful adults were baptized into the faith.
The practice of baptism remained unchanged for more than 1,000 years until the 16th century Protestant Reformation, when large numbers of Christians split from the Roman Catholic Church and began to reexamine once-sacred rituals. Many Protestants started baptizing people once they became adults because they felt that children and infants could not fully grasp the spiritual significance of baptism.
For Baptists, a Protestant denomination that began in England in the early 17th century, baptism has evolved into a way to publicly express devotion to Christ’s teachings. It is not a statement of membership or necessary for salvation, but rather a ceremony to honor those who have been saved by God. Baptists complete this ritual as adults by total immersion in water, just as John the Baptist did with Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.
For those who practice Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and more ritualistic forms of Protestantism, baptism continues to be essential for the salvation of the worshipper. For this reason, the baptism of infants is extremely important. During the baptism, the priest sprinkles water on the head of the infant to represent the forgiveness of original sin, rebirth and connection with God.
Baptism has evolved to meet the needs of contemporary Christians and their differing faiths. In its many forms, the ritual continues to be as important to the faithful today as it was to early Christians.
FATHER JOHN MYSLINSKI (St. Mary's Church, Rockville, MD): This is a special moment, in many ways for this parish...
So Jesus tells us in the Gospels very specifically, when he told his disciples, his apostles: "Go make disciples of all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
It's a call to conversion, it forgives sins, it forgives original sin. And I think that was emphasized for many centuries. Vatican II brought out another aspect and reemphasized the whole journey with Jesus Christ, discipleship, new birth. And the water is a symbol of that.
Now shall I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit...
In the early Church, of course, the sacrament was conferred on adults. They were converts from the Pagan religions and the Jewish faith. As the Church grew, and there were Christian families and Christian families had children, they wanted to bring their children immediately into the church, and so now predominantly we have baptisms that revolve around infants.
The Church traditionally has always believed that without baptism you can't reach that fullness, that full relationship with God in the afterlife. And throughout the centuries, it has talked about limbo and places that these unborn souls would reside for eternity. And I think that has changed, we don't talk about limbo as much as we used to. Baptism is the fullest way that we can expect to achieve salvation.
And may the Almighty God bless you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit...
REVEREND RANDEL EVERETT (Columbia Baptist Church, Falls Church, VA): We think that when a person herself becomes a follower of Christ, then she identifies Christ with the baptism. Whether it's a 75-year-old or a nine-year-old, it's a picture of a beginning of a new walk with Christ.
I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit...
It's a bond between you and that person. You are participating in a life- changing experience. One of the reasons why we wouldn't baptize infants, we would be afraid that it would give them a false sense of security that there was no need for a personal decision later in life.
If they've been baptized by some mode other than immersion, we ask them to be baptized by immersion just because of the richness of the experience.
The very example of Jesus in the Jordan River -- he was baptized by immersion and even the word "baptidzo" means "to dip" or "to immerse" -- so that's why we have immersion. I know that sprinkling or other ways are significant, but we feel like you miss something if you're not as Romans, Chapter XI says: "We're buried with Christ in baptism and we are raised to walk in newness of life." It's just a real important symbol to us.
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